Life on Shuhada Street

This is part 2 in a 3-part series on the closure of Shuhada street and its impact on the community of Hebron.

by Sarah, Hebron team

Former Palestinian shops in Shuhada street are now overgrown with plants. Photo EAPPI/J. Schilder, 2010.

Former Palestinian shops in Shuhada street are now overgrown with plants. Photo EAPPI/J. Schilder, 2010.

 

Today, the once lively Shuhada Street in Hebron is a shell of its former self. Welded shut doors, rusty awnings, graffiti-sprayed walls, weeds, and caged balconies characterize this once active and busy street. The street was essentially shut down during the second Intifada and access to the street denied to Palestinians. Despite Israeli pledges to reopen the street, Shuhada Street remains closed and eerily empty.

Shuhada Street stretches from the entrance to H2 from H1 at Checkpoint 56 to the opposite side of H2 and Checkpoint 209 and is home to Israeli settlers and Palestinians. There are three settlements on Shuhada Street: Beit Hadassah, Beit Romano, and Avraham Avinu. The location of these settlements is what makes Hebron such a unique city as they are situated in the heart of a Palestinian city and Shuhada Street is closed to Palestinians because of it.

Life on Shuhada Street for Israeli settlers is quiet. There is no traffic, pedestrian or vehicular, there is excessive security ensuring safety, there is a coffee shop, school, and museum. Residents of Beit Hadassah deliver snacks and hot tea to the soldier at Checkpoint 56 below their building each morning. Children wait at bus stops for the school bus to collect them. Worshippers walk up Shuhada Street to the synagogue and the Cave of Patriarchs. Tour groups of settlers and internationals peruse the street with interest and intrigue. As a settler, life on Shuhada Street is normal.

Life on Shuhada Street for Palestinian residents is a struggle. Those still living on the street are forbidden from accessing the street and therefore using their front doors. As a result they are required to search for alternative access to and from their homes, which often means dangerous careering across staircases and rooftops. Many, if not all, of the balconies are encased in fencing with the goal of preventing stones and eggs reaching their belongings.

Cordoba School, for Palestinian children, is situated above Shuhada Street and access to the school is a steep staircase at Checkpoint 55 that also marks the border of Palestinian admission to Shuhada Street. Ecumenical accompaniers monitor this checkpoint and Checkpoint 56 two times a day during the school week. Israeli soldiers and settlers often harass children walking down Shuhada Street to school. EAs attempt to prevent such agitation by providing protective presence and in the process develop relationships with the children and teachers of Cordoba School.

From the staircase leading to Cordoba School to the access road of the Ibrahimi Mosque, Palestinians are forbidden from walking or driving on the Shuhada Street. Approximately 30,000 Palestinians and 700 Israeli settlers live in the H2 partition of Hebron. For Palestinian residents, Shuhada Street is a clear symbol of the occupation. Israeli authorities use the Palestinian nationality as a weapon to control where they walk, how they live, and where they exist. The empty Shuhada Street epitomizes the Israeli occupation.

Life on Shuhada Street is a dream for some and a nightmare for others. For the Israeli settlers inhabiting Shuhada Street is a dream of access, peace, and protection. For the Palestinian residents of Shuhada Street life is a series of humiliating checkpoints and restrictions. It is a conundrum of rights and a skewed priority of safety.

* Read Part 1: The Story of Shuhada Street.

The Story of Shuhada Street

This is part 1 in a 3-part series on the closure of Shuhada street and its impact on the community of Hebron.

by Sarah, Hebron team

Nov 2013 Shuhada Street 2 Hebron S. Robinson

Walking down Shuhada street is undeniably eery and feels as if walking in a ghost town. Photo EAPPI/S. Robinson.

Shuhada Street; most cities have one: the street that embodies the values of the community. The street where people meet and tourists visit. The street that breathes with activity and life. The street that symbolises all that it good and all that is bad in a city. New York has 5th Avenue, London has Oxford Street, Johannesburg has Bree Street, Paris has the Champs-Elysees, and Hebron has Shuhada Street. Or rather, Hebron had Shuhada Street.

Shuhada Street rests in the soul of the old city of Hebron. For centuries it was the commercial and social heart of this historic city. Shop keepers lived above their stores so life on the street was not limited to trading hours. The main fruit and vegetable market operated on Shuhada Street and the access to side roads and slip paths originated from this street. It was a bustling and busy road full of activity and life for both Palestinians and Israelis.

Then, in 1994, after the massacre at the Ibrahimi Mosque where a Jewish settler named Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Palestinian worshipers, the street was closed to Palestinian vehicles. When the second Intifada erupted six years later, the street was shut down completely. Shops were closed, people evicted, and Palestinian access banned in the name of security. Today, almost 20 years later, Shuhada Street is a shell of its former self.

This once exciting and elegant stretch of Hebron is now a ghost town. Palestinians have access to approximately 100m of the street. Israelis have access to the entire street. Palestinians that still live on Shuhada Street are forbidden to use their front doors. Instead they are forced to find alternative routes to their homes through the back of the buildings and over roofs.

According to B’tselem:

“As a result of these severe restrictions, 304 shops and warehouses along Shuhada Street closed down, and Palestinian municipal and governmental offices that had been on the street were relocated to Area H1. Israel also took control of the central bus station that had been on the street, turning it into an army base.”

The significance of Shuhada Street extends to both Palestinians and Israelis. There are three Israeli settlements on or near the street; Beit Hadassah, Beit Romano, and Avraham Avinu. These residents have full vehicular and pedestrian access to Shuhada Street. Several military checkpoints dot the road, all equipped with heavily armed soldiers. It is because of these settlers and their prioritised protection that Palestinians are barred.

Walking down Shuhada Street is undeniably eerie. Stray cats and military dogs add to the mysterious images of broken windows, welded shut doors, graffiti stained walls, army jeeps, and shattered stone. The little life this street holds is quick to enter and often eager to escape. Many walls host Israeli posters describing the history of the street albeit remarkably one-sided. Occasionally the face of a small Palestinian child peaks through a caged window on the second floor of a building curiously inspecting a street they have never stepped foot on. Israeli children catch buses to school and settlers enjoy a morning run on this stricken street. The separation is seamlessly clear.

The story of Shuhada Street is not complete. Several chapters are yet to be written. Many organisations are tirelessly campaigning to open Shuhada Street. The separation cannot be sustainable for Israelis or Palestinians. Until the street is opened, the dream of what Shuhada Street could be is just that; a dream.